Sunday, October 09, 2011

Homecoming Excess (OR "Why I would just as soon cancel the whole event")

Last night, I helped to cap off the 2011 Fall Spirit Week with the Homecoming Dance. We had a DJ, decorations, various casino games (run by brother Jesuits), and a photo booth. Our students purchased arrived in suit jackets and ties, accompanied by elegantly dressed young women who wore fresh corsages, nicely done hair, and obviously new dresses. We opened our doors at 8:00 and by 8:15, party bus after party bus arrived, dropping their passengers at our door. The music was wonderful, the lights were dim, the stage was set for what, to my mind, should have been a great evening.

And then I noticed party bus after party bus returning to the door and students boarding it once again. In some cases, students were at the dance for less than thirty minutes before boarding the party bus to take them around the city.

As someone who put a lot of thought into this dance, who put out a tremendous amount of money to help ensure that students had a really enjoyable evening, this really bothered me. So I did what I normally do when I get angry: I brood. As I brooded last night, here are some things that hit me.

My Expenses to run the 2011 Homecoming:

Homecoming Shirts: $3875
DJ: $600
Photo Booth: $825
Casino Games: $450
Decorations: $250
Chaperones: $750
Dinner for Chaperones: $230

Total: $6980. (So, for the sake of even numbers, let's just say $7000)

Now, I totally own that I probably could have skimped on some things. Yet, it seemed to me wise to try to offer things for students to do to encourage them to stay at the dance, to be with their friends and enjoy an evening together.

I charged each student $20.00 for admission. The cost of admission included one t-shirt, two tickets, free photos from the photo booth, casino games, decorations, and dancing.

So I went into the dance knowing that this was a pretty expensive affair to run. Certainly it is nothing like Senior Prom, but $7,000 is still no small amount of money.

Add to this the amount of money spent by the students on things like corsages, boutonnieres, hair, dresses, and then the party bus.

I think the most stomach-churning part of last night was watching students roll up in these enormous "party buses." Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors would spill out of these rolling shrines to material excess. I heard from one student that, in his group, it cost each student $80.00 to pay for transportation. That seems like an enormous, and excessive, amount of money to shell out on something as insignificant as a Homecoming dance.

Even Chaperones can have fun!
So here's the thing: these kids (ahem, parents) pay all this money for a Party Bus and the kids feel that they should make the most of it. So rather than enjoy the dance, they go in and then leave pretty quickly so they can drive around the city in the belly of a gas guzzling bus. All to feel glamorous. All because these kids really need this.

To the parents who rented these things, I really want to say, "Are you out of your damned minds?" Your kid doesn't need a party bus to get to Homecoming. Your little freshmen or sophomore should be glad to be allowed out of the house after 10:00 pm, so either pull up in the minivan or give him the keys to the family Ford. There is no reason, however, to rent a party bus or a limo to take a kid to a dance (we have no paparazzi outside). We're in the middle of an economic downturn and the profligacy of last night's event was just stunning.

If I were to run another homecoming, I think I'd hire my DJ, assemble my chaperones, and then let the Student Body know that we would have no t-shirts and that the dance would not be a formal. I would then write a $5,000 check and give it to a school that needed the money for tuition assistance and run just a really fun regular dance for the kids. Not a formal, mind you, but a regular old dance where kids wear what they want and act like fools. I'd rather strip away all the pretense and let them be kids than to watch the displays of excess I saw roll in, and out, of our parking lot last night.

This is, truth to tell, a bit of venting. I'm still sick with a nagging cold and I suspect I'm being a crank. But I'd love to hear people's thoughts on the "party bus" mentality and the excesses of these formal dances, especially from parents' perspectives. I can see some merit in the idea of the party bus but I wonder if parents sometimes aren't entrusting to a company a job they should be doing for themselves...


M said...

Greetings from England Fr Dunns!

I have been reading your blog almost from the start of your first posting, and never felt the need to respond, but hey! A first time for everything.

I fully understand how vexed it must of been you to go through all of the preparation, giving time energy, and thought for your students, just for them to leave and give little value back!

For me, its a matter of value, they valued going around trying to be the centre of all things in the posh bus......look at me look at me! More than being at the Dance, the whole purpose of the evening.

I suggest this! Next time provide your students with time energy, and thought to organise their own Dance. After all, if they are invloved and give part of themselves to the preparations they will own it, and those things people own they value.

Keep up the postings Fr, peace be with you!

Robyn said...

This post reminds me of a conversation I had with my husband last night.
We were watching a popular car show here in the UK. One of the hosts was demonstrating a hugely expensive Dutch car that he described as a 'fashion accessory,' along the line of other excessively expensive things that many in the West aspire to own because they make a 'statement' about our 'worth.'
My husband commented that it was such excess that was one of the reasons given for 9/11 and other terrorist attacks against the West. Radical Islam has reacted against the materialistic idolatry of the West with violence.
In the wake of 9/11, non-radical, that is to say the majority, of Muslims, found themselves on the defensive. Forced again and again to emphasise that their religion is inherently one of peace, and they do NOT condone terrorist attacks, etc.
But I wonder, if there needs to be a similar response from the Christian churches of the West that acknowledges that we ARE prey to materialistic idolatry. Perhaps as followers of Jesus it is time that we distance ourselves from that idolatry and seek instead to demonstrate that Christianity, at its heart, is no more decadently materialistic than moderate Islam is radically violent.

Robin said...

Such frustration!

I can tell you that the budget for Cleveland's interfaith 9/11 downtown event was a lot smaller than yours - in part because we realized that we had to forget about t-shirts. Interestingly, one committee member, upon learning of that decision, protested by saying that colleges and schools buy t-shirts for events all the time! She had no idea what kind of money has to be shelled out for a large order of simple t-shirts.

I really agree with your first commenter, though. I found myself wondering why you were the one doing the planning and making all the decisions. The kids really can do most of it, and then perhaps they would be more invested in the event. I will always remember when I was doing a long term subbing gig in a Montessori middle school and said that I would make some calls and do some legwork for an event we were planning. The students looked at me as if I were nuts and assured me that they would take care of all of it - which they did.

Your school does amazing things and it's always fun to read about your projects and teaching.

Karl said...

I had fun so it wasn't a total bust.

Anonymous said...

They are reflecting the values of our society...all the awards ceremonies and public events...they are probably engaging, at least in some of the party buses, in illegal consumption of alcohol and maybe even other drugs...and yes, they are making decisions and judgments filled with the excess of adolescence and the money of parents who are probably tired of parenting and of trying to go against the grain (ma, dad, all the kids are going on the party bus, it's "just" $80.00, come on, please?) That's what it means when our catholic schools try to live by gospel values. Actually, a pretty good connection to the gospel of this past Sunday...certainly a discussion starter (properly prepared of course) for religious studies classes about the morality, etc. involved.
One catholic school on Long Island (run by the Marianists, I believe) actually stopped having a school sponsored prom a couple of years ago because of the "party bus" (and after-prom hotel room) mentality. Just didn't want to have their name associated with such an event.
Lots to think about, Mr. Duns.
All for the honor and glory of God.

conorsc said...

I think there's something to be said for the simple practicality of the bus. If everyone drove their parents' car to the dance, with their own date and even just one other couple, that's a lot of cars in the parking lot. Driving to the dance also takes place at a time of day a lot different than driving to and from school. It's dark out, and people can be wearing dark suits and dresses in the parking lot, too (You know how high school students drive).
I mean, a lot of those buses aren't even that "nice." It's great to be on them with friends, but it's not the Taj Mahal on wheels every time-and the same goes for limo's (My friend's limo lost a wheel-not got a flat, actually LOST a wheel-on the way back from prom).
That being said, I totally agree with this. I felt really embarrassed reading it, especially since my sister was just telling me that she and her friends only stuck around for a few minutes...
Yet, I'm sure it was still fun, and SOME people had a great time.

Anonymous said...

What you don't get is that us students and our parents can afford that because we have the money. We work for it and we should be able to spend it however we want. A school that I pay $10,000 a year should not tell me that they wont have a dance because they want to donate the money away. That is socialism.

Unknown said...


1. I assume you are a U of D Jesuit student. In the future, have the courage to post your name: it's tacky and cowardly to post anonymously.

2. You need to be precise in your terms. Go and research what 'socialism' is. I think I'm standing within the mainstream of Catholic social teaching.

3. If you really think that I "don't get it" and that you, who cannot even vote, should do as you wish simply because you have the money: see me on Monday, we will go and get you a refund check and a copy of your transcripts, because you are obviously not getting much out of a Catholic, Jesuit education.

Anonymous said...

Well once i heard someone say that give them what they want so they can figure out what they truly desire which isn't money or wealth but God. Now with saying don't mean any disrespect what so ever but in that sense they are just teens and most of the time have no idea what they are thinking but do know what they want which is a least a solid step the next step they will have to jump for though. just for the record I am not the first anonymous. I am sure you can read the defiance in my tone.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Duns,
For the record, this is another U of D student, not the anonymous one before me. I truly believe that students should have the choice as to whether they want to rent a party bus, a limo, or simply have mom drive them. I don't believe it is fair that you call students out about excessive spending for party buses, when our school costs $10,000 a year. Do U of D students pay for a good education? Yes, they do, but do you think it is a necessity? Some parents easily dish out $10,000 so they can say their kid goes to a private Catholic school, others scratch together the tuition, making great sacrifices so their kid gets a good education. For both of the example families, U of D is an option, not a requirement. The same goes for the part busses. They are an option, not a mandate. Parents pay for the whole U of D package, and many of them want what they pay for. Part of the U of D package is a Jesuit education, updated technology, a dedicated staff, and among other things, a formal dance. I am not saying we recruit and use our dances as incentives, but a big part of U of D's image in other schools is our dances. If you are really worried about the financial aspect of the dance, then either cut back on the shirts or raise the price to go. My point is that you should not generalize when it comes to these things. In the situation of the party buses and limos, some students had their parents pay, others had to dig out of their own personal savings to pay the fee. I, myself, had to use money that I worked hard for over the summer, as did many other students that I talked to. Unfortunately, some students could not go with their friends on limos because their parents would not pay and they didn't have any money of their own. But should we punish those who do have the money (regardless of whether they have the money or their parents do) just to make it fair for those who don't?



P.S. Homecoming was great by the way. I really liked the casino theme.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the anonymity; anyways, current UofD student here.
The reason I am posting is because after reading the comments, I continue to be appalled my the mentality of many well off students at UofD. It's a horrendous mindset to be in where you think, I can do whatever I damn well please by simply paying 10k a year (Parents money). By attending our school, you sign into a contract, where on your part, you agree to uphold certain morals and act appropriately. Every event at UofD is a privilege, not a right.
So, when the administration threatens to take away the homecoming dance because you only stay for 15 minutes in order to get wasted back at your after party, its your fault for not upholding your end of the contract by taking advantage of the homecoming dance. Again, in this case the excuse "I pay 10k a year" wont work.
Public school is always an option if you feel your rights are being infringed on, because frankly, by signing your student handbook agreement, the school has almost free reign over administrative policies.

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